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The Inadequate Jurisprudence of Adequate State Grounds

Engage, Volume 11, Issue 2 The United States Supreme Court has inched its way toward clarifying the standards that define whether a state procedural ruling is “adequate” so as to preclude federal court review. Unfortunately, it has failed to adopt a consistent standard, leaving state court rulings subject to “second-guessing” by federal courts. On December 8, 2009, the Court decided Beard v. Kindler, holding narrowly that a state procedural rule is not automatically “inadequate” simply because the rule is discretionary rather than mandatory. But the Court declined to articulate a clearer understanding of “inadequacy” for such state rules, deferring that step for a case that might be a more suitable “vehicle for providing broad guidance on the adequate state ground doctrine.” In another case presenting an opportunity to refine the standard, Philip Morris USA v. Williams, the Court granted certiorari and had squarely before it the opportunity to clarify the adequate state ground doctrine and adopt a standard of fair notice and reasonable opportunity. On March 31, 2009, however, the Court dismissed the writ of certiorari in Philip Morris as improvidently granted. This paper describes the adequate state ground doctrine as it exists today and offers a clearer standard that, if adopted by the Court, would be consistently workable and understandable by state and federal courts...